It’s that time of the year again when Chinese families come together to celebrate Chinese New Year. It’s the most important of all the Chinese traditions and spans 15 days. There are 12 Chinese zodiac animals used to represent years in the lunar calendar, 2018 being the year of the Dog. Zodiac signs play an integral part in Chinese culture and can be used to determine your fortune for the year, marriage compatibility, career fit, best times to have a baby, and so much more. The Chinese obsess with finding out their horoscope for the year to come and follow them religiously.
So what are some of the customs of Chinese New Year?
One of the key things most families will be doing is spring cleaning. Spring cleaning before the new year is a must. This means sweeping away the bad luck of the old year. No cleaning can be done on the first day of the New Year as this will sweep away any good luck that the new year will bring and bring bad luck into your household so make sure to spring clean before the new year.
Dress for Luck
Also, you must not wash your hair on the first day of the Chinese New Year. ‘Hair’ in the Chinese language has the same pronunciation as the word ‘fortune’ and so to wash your hair on the first day of Chinese New Year will be washing away the good fortune that you will have for the coming year. Similarly, buying new clothes is a favorite tradition as new clothes signify a new beginning, thus shaking away all the bad luck of the previous year. Red is a lucky color, and is highly encouraged. No one should wear black or dark colors during this time either. The number 4 is also considered unlucky as this sounds like the word ‘death’ in Chinese. 8 is considered a lucky number as it sounds like ‘prosperity’ in Chinese.
Chinese New Year Food and Festivities
So, with all this in place, the Chinese New Year festivities really begin the night before. Families gather to have Reunion Dinner, the final meal of the year. There is great gusto during this evening meal, and it is not unheard of for families to start preparing for it a week or two in advance. It is also not unusual to eat foods that have similar pronunciations to ‘luck’ or ‘good fortune’ in Mandarin. For example, fish is often eaten because in the Chinese language, ‘fish’ sounds like the word ‘abundant’ or ‘profit’ so eating fish signifies that you will have a “blessed year” or have “abundant profit for the year”.
Food often plays a significant role in expat life – read more here.
The first 2 days of the Chinese New Year are the most important. On these days, you pay your respects first to the most important members of your family. There is a strict hierarchy as to who to visit first lest you disrespect your family clan and incur the ire of the elders. Visits must be made in the order of seniority (by age) on either side of the family.
During visits, grown-ups give children beautifully decorated red envelopes filled with money (no odd numbers as these too are considered unlucky, and no $4 please either!). Grown-ups bring oranges to the houses they are visiting as these are considered lucky too. The red packets are a sign of bestowing upon the recipient good health and great prosperity.
After all the eating and visiting, a fireworks display is put on in the evening to welcome in the new year. Fireworks were used to scare away the evil spirits with their loud and sudden bursts of sound and light. Horoscopes for each of the zodiac signs are read out and analyzed. The religious and spiritual visit temples to pray for wealth and health for their families.
There is nothing quite like being in the thick of the Chinese New Year preparation and celebration. The markets are overflowing with shoppers vying for the freshest vegetables and meat. The atmosphere is electrifying and intense. It’s amazing to see what each family serves up. Everyone has their own tradition. Mine, for example, hail from Penang, in Malaysia, where my parents cook a little-known dish that is fairly obscure and hard to find even in Penang nowadays. In a way, I enjoy the preparation more than the new year itself because I get to spend time with my Mom and Aunt who are both amazing cooks and bakers. The new year goodies are unparalleled when made in your own family kitchen. Store bought just never tastes the same. Being miles away from home, I miss the camaraderie that will go with the celebrations and the small moments that you share with cousins, aunts, parents, brothers and sisters. I hope that I will be able to visit soon.
So I wish you all a prosperous and healthy year of the dog! Do you celebrate Chinese New Year in the Bay? Tell us about it below!
We're counting down until we make the epic journey to the UK, going home to visit my husband’s family for...I am, however, filled with dread rather than joy